Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dumb and Dumber


The two men - Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie - convicted in the Neil Lennon bomb plot are clearly a few egg sandwiches short of a picnic.

But their stupidity is no excuse for their actions - which deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law - not least because both men lied all the way through the court proceedings - and took no responsibility for their behaviour.

If their stories and the pleas of their expensive defence lawyers had been believed - they would be walking the streets of today - as free men, no doubt emboldened by the experience.

Thankfully they are heading to jail - and hopefully for a long time.

During which they can reflect upon the bigotry and sectarianism - which seems to have preoccupied much of their lives - so far at least.

Here are some interesting insights into the case from the BBC web site:

"Police enlisted the support of shadowy agencies and covert operatives, but it was old-fashioned policework which cracked the case and led to the would-be bombers.

Two detectives carrying out door-to-door inquiries noticed that the B&M store at the Hawkshill Retail Park in Stevenston, Ayrshire, stocked items similar to those used to make up the suspect packages: padded A5 envelopes, 100ml plastic travel bottles and distinctive cheap sports watches.

The other main component was nails - and two doors down was B&Q.

Using receipts and CCTV, police identified Neil McKenzie shopping with his mother, buying the items for just a few pounds.

McKenzie, 42, is an unemployed builder from Saltcoats, his accomplice Trevor Muirhead, 44, is a van driver from Kilwinning, both Ayrshire.

Both men were steeped in loyalism. They were Rangers supporters with a hatred for Celtic, Irish Republicanism and, in particular, the man they felt embodied both: Neil Lennon.

Having identified the suspects, police planted a bug in McKenzie's car and started following both men.

The conversations they recorded were crucial in proving that Muirhead and McKenzie were involved in the plot.

The plotters were heard discussing two litres of peroxide which they had sourced from Muirhead's hairdresser son. They had later apparently mixed the peroxide in an attempt to make the potentially explosive substance Triacetone Triperoxide, which was found in the "bombs".

The conversation ran: "Did you bin all the..." "Aye, I put it all in the bin. Dinnae worry about it." "And there's nothing left anywhere else? Everything is in the bin, right? Cannae turn around and say we've got peroxide or anything like that."

They were heard chatting about "planting" something outside a police station and letting it off.

McKenzie added that police thought they were dealing with "a couple of hillbillies."

Muirhead replied: "They think all the Ayrshire boys are dafties."

Police then raided McKenzie's home in Links Road, Saltcoats, and Muirhead's property in Innerwood Road, Kilwinning. Officers seized a number of items from the houses, including mobile phones.

A message from Muirhead to McKenzie on 16 April was discovered. It read: "Sorry about the time m8. Our package was in Pennyburn last night waiting on navy bomb disposal."

Another text said: "Not heard anything about it must be on its way m8."

Muirhead had a phone conversation with his son Gordon after reports of the bomb plot appeared on TV.

Both men were steeped in Loyalism and anti-Celtic sentiment He referred to "more than one" being posted and when asked had he sent them, Muirhead told his son: "Never you mind".

Muirhead was later quizzed by detectives and pinned the blame on McKenzie for the first package sent to Lennon. He said the incidents must have been sparked off by a "hatred" of the Northern Irishman.

Muirhead said he was "terrified" of his friend, adding that he could be "really quite violent".

The jury heard the interview in which he claims to have once been an "avid follower" of Celtic - despite being a former member of the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Londonderry.

His home was also plastered with Rangers and Loyalist material.

McKenzie told officers he got bomb making tips from watching the A-Team, and he had seen on the internet how to use peroxide to make a flash. He admitted knowing about the first device sent to Lennon and confessed to buying parts for other packages, adding: "I told folk how to make them."

McKenzie went on to state he was a Rangers and Barcelona supporter - but took his young son to junior football to get away from the Old Firm hatred.

Prosecutor Tim Niven Smith said in his closing speech that the Crown case was based on the belief both accused thought the packages were harmful.

In the end, the devices were not judged to be viable: they could not have exploded. But police say if Muirhead and McKenzie hadn't been stopped, they could eventually have killed."

It's enough to make you ashamed to be Scottish - except for the fact that the Scottish Police caught the two men and the Scottish Courts have dealt with them - albeit they are now on remand while awaiting sentence at the end of April.

I would dearly love to be in Glasgow's High Court court that day - to see if the two men still have the same two lawyers to make a plea of mitigation on their behalf - at enormous public expense of course.

Because what is there left to say - they have both lied through their teeth up until now which is the only consistent thing about their story - so what's likely to change in the next four weeks?

Forest on Fire


'Stupid is as stupid does' - was one of Forest Gump's favourite sayings - and it's still hard to argue with all these years later.

Sometimes there's no accounting for people's stupidity - and a case in point is the woman from York who has reportedly suffered severe burns - after trying to decant petrol in her kitchen while cooking the evening meal on her gas cooker.

Now I notice that at least one of the newspaper's has tried to lay the blame for this at the government's door which would - of course - be completely ridiculous.

Governments and politicians - past and present - are responsible for many of the country's ills - but I draw the line at holding them to account - for the actions of individual citizens who act like  idiots.

So while I'm as sorry as the next person to learn that someone has been badly burned in an accident - you have to ask yourself what possessed this woman to behave as if she had lost her mind - and taken leave of her senses.

Anyone who drives a car knows the dangers of dealing with petrol.

In fact anyone who knows anything about anything - would consider it more than a bit barmy to be decanting petrol inside a family home - especially with a naked flame burning away in the background.

So to my mind when people do stupid things - really stupid things - there's no point looking round for someone else to blame.

Sometimes - as Forest Gump and his momma said - 'Stupid is as stupid does'.

Ask Dr Ozzy


'Dr' Ozzy Osbourne has had some troublesome cases to deal with recently - which would really test the mettle of your average GP - I have to say.

But this ageing rocker seems completely unfazed by whatever issues or problems people throw at him - from sleep disorders to people crashing their cars because they own a cat - Dr Ozzy seems to have the answer.

Dear Dr Ozzy

I’ve read that sleep disruption can lead to ‘multiple personality disorder’. As a stressed-out dad who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in years, should I be worried?

Dayton, Edinburgh

Nobody wants to go to bed as John and wake up as Jim. Or worse, Jane. But from what I’m told, this is an issue for psychiatric patients who are bouncing off their padded walls, to the point where they’re hallucinating, not the average bloke who gets up a few times to use the can. And thank God for that, or there’d be 800 different Ozzys by now. I think one’s enough.

Dr Ozzy

Dear Dr Ozzy

I’ve been told that having a cat makes you 2½ times more likely to crash your car. Really?

Ted, London

Not as crazy as it sounds. According to some Czech scientist, there’s a parasite in cat litter, and if you get infected with it, your attention span goes to pieces. That’s why you’re more likely to drive into a lamppost. It’s only a problem if you get infected, though, so as long as you ain’t sprinkling cat litter onto your cornflakes, I’d say you’re okay.

Dr Ozzy

Contact Dr Ozzy at The Sunday Times by emailing: askdrozzy@sunday-times.co.uk

Welsh Warbler


I can't get that terrible image of George Galloway out of my head and in desperation I have gone back to the original song - to see if that helps cure the terrors.

'What's New Pussycat?' was a smash hit for Tom Jones back in 1965 - the song having been written for a film of the same name by Burt Bacharach - the doyen of famous American songwriters.

So here's a link to the old Welsh warbler belting out the words to his hit song - on You Tube.

If this doesn't work I'll need some kind of therapy to get the Big Brother image out of my head - because it's a waking nightmare - no kidding.

http://youtu.be/Ga3I5DTIA-E

If I Were A Rich Man


Here's an excellent article on the race to become London Mayor - written by Philip Collins for yesterday's Times newspaper.

Now I don't know Philip Collins - but I know how he feels and if I were still in the Labour party and living in London - I'd feel exactly the same way too.

Because Ken Livingstone is a self-centred, hugely divisive character - and it says all you need to know about the nature of London Labour - that the party couldn't come up with a more credible candidate.

Maybe a woman or even someone from a ethnic minority background - but yet again the people's party gets stuck with Ken - only this time he's a limited company (K4L Ltd) - just to add some extra spice and intrigue.

So to celebrate - or commiserate depending on you point of view - here's a clip of Topol belting out his famous song from Fiddler on the Roof.

http://youtu.be/jJ_-CmwHWPo

"I’m a Labour member, but I can’t vote for Ken"

Making money from dubious sources is bad enough. Stoking divisions between communities is a disgrace

At the end of the day it will be too late. This is the day on which the names of the candidates to be the next Mayor of London are formally submitted. Both the main parties have run out of time to arrange for their man to be run over by a bendy bus or to fall off a Boris bike. Now it’s going to be Boris again or Ken again. Which prospect, as a confirmed Labour supporter and convinced advocate of the idea of city mayors, I find completely deflating.

I can summon up any number of reasons to dismiss Boris Johnson. Quoting David Niven, Charles Moore once summed up the Mayor by comparing him to Errol Flynn: “You knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He always let you down.” Here is a man with an excess of ambition for which he has no obvious use. He is the mayor who, in Daniel Boorstin’s definition of a celebrity, is famous for being famous. As he told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs: “My silicon chip, my ambition silicon chip, has been programmed to try to scrabble up this cursus honorum, this ladder of things.”

He’s certainly not famous for any great achievements. Even the policy with which he is most closely associated — the bikes that bear his name— was a gift left behind by his predecessor. Mr Johnson has no clear answer to why he needs a second term beyond the fact that he is not Ken Livingstone — a statement of the obvious that might, alas, be enough.

But despite these criticisms, I have to admit that I rather like him. Mr Johnson is genuinely funny and I will forgive him a lot for that. I know that it’s demeaning to an important office to be so visibly bored with the details of the job, but I have a sneaking regard for that too.

In fact, I have to confess that my reason for not voting for him has nothing to do with his deficiencies on policy or strategy. I have a stupid reason for not voting Conservative, which is that I don’t vote Conservative. That may be a dumb expression of identity rather than a serious analysis, but I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise.

So, now that I have come out as the kind of irrational tribal idiot not familiar to normal people, I will obviously be voting for Ken, without a second thought, despite his frivolous claims that the price of everything will magically go down. Won’t I? Well, not in this case, no. Even those who vote for a party as a matter of principle need to retain their principles.

It’s not really the evident hypocrisy of Mr Livingstone’s tax affairs that puts me off. When he established a company, Silveta Ltd, into which his earnings as a freelance were paid, Mr Livingstone did nothing wrong. But the sole purpose of pretending to be a corporation is to pay less tax. Even if it is not true that Mr Livingstone illegally claimed the costs of his political staff as a tax-deductible expense, he cannot go round calling tax avoiders “rich bastards who should not be allowed to vote”.

Though tax avoidance is a poor policy for a scourge of tax avoidance, Mr Livingstone still hasn’t lost me at this point. However, if you follow the money, he soon does.

The serious problem with Mr Livingstone’s money is not net; it is gross. I care much less about the rate of income tax that Mr Livingstone pays than I do about the source of the money. Mr Livingstone presented a show on Press TV, which is owned and controlled by the Iranian Government. He clearly thinks there is no moral problem in taking payment from a theocracy that denies the historical validity of the Holocaust and advocates stoning for adultery and homosexuality. I’m afraid I beg to differ on that.

It’s the intellectual origin of his gross salary that is testing the loyalty of the Labour clan. Yesterday, in a contrite article in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Livingstone listed the many ways that his mayoralty had been good for the Jewish community in London.

Short of reciting the lyrics to If I Were a Rich Man he could hardly have been more effusive.

The reason this remarkable piece was needed was that Mr Livingstone had left the impression, at a meeting of prominent Jews, that he had given up on their votes because they were all stinking rich. Where do you start with that? As a Labour supporter, I don’t want a candidate who thinks rich people won’t vote Labour, by definition. And I want even less a candidate who thinks that Jewish people are all the same, to be taken for granted and ignored at the same time.

Though it would be churlish not to welcome Mr Livingstone’s contrition, it is, as yet, nowhere near enough. When I worked for Tony Blair, as the Prime Minister’s adviser on the Olympics, I saw Mr Livingstone’s dispute with the Reuben brothers up close. The conflict was bitter but there is no excuse for Mr Livingstone telling them, in effect, to go back where they came from. Even that pales next to his unconscionable complaint that a Jewish reporter was acting like a guard at a concentration camp. I want a direct apology for these nasty remarks.

I would also have liked some mention, in Mr Livingstone’s mea culpa, of the other stupidities of which he is guilty. I am waiting for Mr Livingstone to apologise for his patronage of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim scholar who supports female genital mutilation, suicide bombing in Israel and the murder of homosexuals.

Until Mr Livingstone’s penitence goes further, I will assume that he has been engaged in a deliberate strategy of dividing one community from another. How better to tie up the vote of London’s million Muslims than by offering a stony countenance to London’s 200,000 Jews? I don’t want a mayor anywhere whose politics pit one people against another. In the most diverse and tolerant city in the world it is a disgrace.

The Labour leadership should have dropped its candidate before now. David Lammy or Andrew Adonis, for example, would make fine mayors of London and perhaps one day they will.

Unfortunately, Ken, like Boris, floats free from party politics. The Labour Party is his servant rather than the other way round. Mr Johnson once described, in a piece in The Spectator, the contest between George Bush and John Kerry in which he gave, unwittingly, a taste of the contest he is in now: “We don’t have much of a choice in this election: between a man who inspires not much confidence and a man who inspires fractionally less.”

Friday, 30 March 2012

Bomb Plotters Guilty


The news wires have just reported that the two men charged with sending parcel bombs through the post - to the Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two other high-profile fans - have been found guilty.

A good thing too I say - because what a farce the trial had become - as some witnesses tried to withdraw previous written statements given to the police. 

While the two accused men - Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie - did their best to give the impression that they couldn't spell the word 'bomb' - never mind build one.

Dumb and Dumber will be sentenced at a later date - but the jury took only a very short time to see through their tissue of lies.

Pity the same couldn't be said for the men's defence team - Gordon Jackson QC and Donald Findlay QC - two of the most expensive lawyers money can buy in Scotland.

Quite why the public purse has to shell out so much money to defend these two idiots - who probably have difficulty tying their shoelaces - is beyond me. 

But while they are both idiots - and deserve some pity on score - they are both vile and dangerous idiots nonetheless - who deserve to be severely punished for their hate-filled, sectarian crimes.

Stating the Obvious


The leaders of Unite - the union - have very helpfully announced that strike action over Easter by fuel tank drivers - has been ruled out.

Now as a statement of the bleedin' obvious - this takes the biscuit - because the union would have to have given 7 days notice of any intention to take industrial action - under the law.

Which would have meant the union issuing such a notice yesterday - effectively - on order to commence strike action over the Easter holiday weekend.

At certain times this great country of ours seems to take leave of its senses - and this is one - where newspapers headlines are full of talk about pasties - and where self-induced panic sets in over fuel supplies. 

I am reminded of a famous cover from the Private Eye magazine - in September 2000 - the last time fuel hysteria gripped the nation.

The front cover of the magazine featured the Labour leader Tony Blair and a 'speech bubble' which said:

'You cant fuel all of the people - all of the time!' 

Boom boom - as Basil Brush would have said.

Bonus Balls


I am a man with a mission - as they say.

I am trying to discover who is - or was - the brains behind the North Lanarkshire Council bonus scheme.

Which resulted in £184,000 worth of top-up payments - to the council's most senior officials including the chief executive, Gavin Whitefield.

I am told by a well placed source - one very close to the council - that this exercise was carried out entirely in-house - and was not farmed out to any independent third party.

Which wouldn't suprise me - because it has all the hallmarks of a rather cosy in-house deal - which hasn't been subjected to much, if any, independent scrutiny.

But if any readers can help me by providing further details - I'd be greatly obliged.

Because I think this business of performance pay - for only the most highly paid officials of the council - is a complete scandal and a terrible waste of taxpayers' money.

One clue that might help people is the reference number on the document that was finally dragged out of North Lanarkshire Council - after another very time consuming and time wasting Freedom of Information request.

Why do these council say they support Freedom of Information when - in practice - they do fight tooth and nail to keep things under wraps?

Anyway the reference on the document is HR/IW apparently - and good folks working within the council may be able to decipher what this means - and where the trail might lead next.

So if you have any ideas, drop Mark Irvine a note - in complete confidence of course - at the following e-mail address: markirvine@compuserve.com

PS
I've been keeping an eye out to see what the trade unions have to say - if anything - on the latest revelations from North Lanarkshire.

I haven't spotted anything so far - but then again I don't always see the local papers. So if readers have any useful information to pass on - please don't hesitate to do so. 

Labour Leaders



Here's a previous post from the blog site archive - which kind of speaks for itself.

The last Labour Government at Westminster tried desperately to stop the general public getting to know about MPs' expenses - which led to the biggest parliamentary scandal of modern times.

To my mind the present Labour leadership of South Lanarkshire Council - is every bit as bad.

Because council leaders have abused the freedom of information process - which they claim to support - and wasted huge amounts of taxpayers' money in their attempts to stop people from learning the truth.

Now what kind of way is that for a Labour-run council - a Labour-run council - to behave.

South Lanarkshire Council (10 May 2011)

Here's a copy of an e-mail sent today to the leader of South Lanarkshire Council - Councillor Eddie McAvoy.

Earlier on today I posted contact details for the five constituency MSPs - whose parliamentary seats cover the South Lanarkshire Council area.

The more people who contact their MSP and make their views known - the more likely the council is to come to its senses.

People power really does count in the end - as the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament demonstrated only too well.

Dear Councillor McAvoy
Leader - South Lanarkshire Council

Freedom of Information

I refer to our exchange of e-mails yesterday - 9 May 2011.

I heard subsequently from a council official, as you will know, and have since been advised that South Lanarkshire Council intends to appeal the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I have to say I find this an astonishing decision - one which will comeback to haunt the council in future, I hope - not least because it is another cynical delaying tactic as well as a complete abuse of taxpayers money, in my opinion.

No other council in Scotland behaves in this furtive fashion over the pay levels of its male dominated council jobs - such as refuse workers and gardeners.

South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is epitomised by secrecy and obfuscation - in my experience - yet the council proclaims to support openness, transparency and freedom of information.

To my mind South Lanarkshire Council is putting itself in exactly the same position as the House of Commons when - a few years ago - it tried to prevent the public from learning the truth about Westminster MPs and their expenses - unsuccessfully as it turned out in the end.

I will have more to say on the subject in the weeks ahead and no doubt many other people will as well - including the 2,000 plus South Lanarkshire Council employees who are still fighting for equal pay.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine
Councillor Eddie McAvoy 

South Lanarkshire


Here's an article from this week's Hamilton Advertiser which takes a big stick to South Lanarkshire Council - I think it's fair to say - over its attitude towards Freedom of Information.

Not every local paper is interested in the fight for equal pay - but the Hamilton Advertiser has covered the issue extensively - and is inviting readers to have their say.

So why not take the paper up on its offer - the local council election are only weeks away - and equal pay is a big issue for many people in South Lanarkshire - and their families.

What are you waiting for - tell the Hamilton Advertiser and South Lanarkshire Council what you think.

Not least because the present leadership of the council - has nothing to say for itself.  

Equal Pay Court Dispute

by Julie Gilbert - Hamilton Advertiser

Judges have thrown out a bid by South Lanarkshire Council to block the release of data concerning their pay structure.

Mark Irvine is helping around 2500 council workers in the area with equal pay claims.

He submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council asking about numbers of land service staff receiving a particular level of pay.

The former union official, the organiser of Action 4 Equality Scotland, wanted the figures to establish whether traditional low skilled male jobs in land services – such as gardeners, bin men and grave diggers – were actually paid more than traditional female jobs with an equal or higher level of skill. The latter would include home carers or classroom assistants.

But the council refused his request, saying that revealing the numbers could identify individual employees.

He appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who said this concern was unfounded and that the council should release the figures.

Still not prepared to hand over the information, South Lanarkshire Council went to the Court of Session to challenge the Commissioner’s decision.

On Tuesday, Lord Marnoch published his opinion on the case, and he too said the council should release the figures as it is “important to achieve transparency on the subject of Equal Pay”.

When the Advertiser spoke to the council yesterday (Wednesday), they would not say whether or not the figures will be released following the judgment, simply saying they were still deciding on what course of action to take.

Mr Irvine – who works alongside the no-win-no-fee lawyers handling equal pay claims in North and South Lanarkshire – said the whole thing is a waste of council money, that makes South Lanarkshire look as if they have something to hide.

He said: “It’s the kind of information that’s freely available in all other councils across Scotland.

“South Lanarkshire are trying desperately to keep everything secret.

“I was looking for the information on an anonymous basis. It wasn’t anything to do with the pay of individuals.

“I just wanted to know how many people are paid at that rate of pay.

“All the council have to say is, here are the figures, but the fact they won’t do that makes them look like they have something to hide.

“This is a ridiculous use of tax payers money.

“And the Information Commissioner – which is also publically funded – has to got to court to defend a decision which makes perfect sense.”

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: “We are reflecting on the judgement issued [on Tuesday] and will determine a course of action once we have done so.

“General pay information is readily available within South Lanarkshire Council.”

Mark Irvine spent 20 years as a senior official within union Unison before becoming an independent consultant for workers with disputes regarding equal pay.

He posts regular updates on his blog at www.action4equalityscotland.blogspot.co.uk/

What are your view on the court’s decision?

Red-Hot Chile Peepers

VLT infographic
I loved this article from the BBC web site.

To my mind the person who thought up the strap line of - Red-hot Chile peepers - ought to be promoted to Director General off the BBC immediately - for their wit and imagination.

The story itself may be out of this world - but for me the headline is the real star.

"Red-hot Chile peepers: How to make a very large telescope"

By Katia Moskvitch

Telescope goes after first stars

In the hot and desolate lands of Chile's Atacama Desert, seemingly lonely and lost, four huge metallic structures tower over the dusty summit of Cerro Paranal.

Look closer, though, and you will detect a buzz of activity.

The structures have names - Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun - and each encloses a telescope. Together they form the VLT, or Very Large Telescope, the world's biggest optical telescope facility.

Every now and then, the VLT is in the news, when its astronomers make yet another discovery. Run by the European Southern Observatory (Eso), the VLT became fully operational in 2000.

Since then the telescope has tracked stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, shown us the first-ever images of an exoplanet and captured the afterglow of the furthest known gamma-ray bursts.

The Paranal Observatory offers perfect natural conditions for astronomers: there is virtually no light pollution; the skies are clear; clouds appear on only about 30 days a year. Still, observations would not be the same without the cutting-edge technology of the VLT.

The telescopes are packed with instruments, both above and below ground.

They allow scientists to capture images of stars and nebulas billions of light years away with the clarity you would expect of a snap of your cat snoozing on your living-room sofa.

As the intensely red sun above Northern Chile disappears beyond the horizon, the domes of the four silvery towers slowly open.

They gradually expose the telescopes, ready to eye the night sky and send astronomers valuable data about the Universe.

"Look at this mirror," says Stephane Guisard, an optical engineer at Paranal, pointing at a piece of glass eight metres in diameter. One of the VLT's units is slowly rotating just above our heads.

The type of mirror we have in this telescope is not the same type of mirror you have in your bathroom.

The difference is its optical quality, its smoothness. For example, if it was the diameter of the Earth, it would be so smooth that the biggest mountain would be only a few millimetres high."

This mirror is the main feature of each VLT unit. It is where the light from objects in the night sky first arrives.

But there is no eyepiece for astronomers to peer into to get the final image.

"Once the telescope points at the star we want to observe, the light [from this star] first reflects off the main mirror, which then concentrates it towards the secondary mirror, and then sends it to one of the three instruments of the telescope," says Mr Guisard.

The astronomers will use different instruments for different tasks, depending on what they are looking for.

The VLT is able to link its four units together to create a huge virtual telescope with a much better zoom. Every time an observation takes place, the telescope rotates around both its vertical and horizontal axes.This rotation means spinning around a colossal mass of metal: the total weight of the moving part of the telescope is 450 tonnes.

The main mirror alone weighs 20 tonnes - as much as four pick-up trucks.

Because the rotating structure is so heavy, the telescope distorts - but it is vital for the astronomers to keep the shape of the mirror intact.

"The eight-metre mirror is very thin compared to its diameter. It's optically very floppy. For example, if we were to put it on three points, it would break under its own weight," says Mr Guisard.

"So in order for this not to happen and to keep a perfect shape while the telescope is moving, the mirror is supported by 160 actuators."

A powerful laser beam pierces the atmosphere and creates an artificial star, to help astronomers observe real ones


This mechanism of continually adjusting the mirror is called active optics.

But there is another system that helps astronomers get the best image possible - adaptive optics. Once a ground-based telescope points at a star, it encounters the turbulence of the atmosphere. This turbulence creates the twinkling effect in stars, which makes images blurry.

To correct the distortion, astronomers use a bright reference star located close to the object being observed and measure the blurring. An adjustable mirror then compensates for it.

"Without the adaptive optics, a telescope like one of the VLT units has a no better resolution than a 20cm telescope," explains Frederic Gonte, head of instrumentation at Paranal.

"With the adaptive optics, it is better than the Hubble telescope in space."

Scientists are able to make use of a laser beam so powerful that, once out of the telescope's dome, it pierces the atmosphere.

"The LGS has been developed to compensate for the limitations of the adaptive optics," says Mr Gonte.

"The laser illuminates the sodium layer of the atmosphere, 90km above the Earth, creating an artificial star that we are able to catch with our adaptive optics system and correct for the distortions in the atmosphere."

Now if you followed all that I have to say - 'You're a better man than I am Gunga Din!'

Me -  I think I'll just stick to SpecSavers.